From birth, infants express needs that demand immediate gratification, most notably for milk, sleep, or a cuddle. But it's often not until that first smile, when they're between 1 and 2 months old, that we realize they want social interaction as well. Their smiles say to us that they are happy, content, and enjoying what's going on around them. Around 4 or 5 months, smiling takes on an auditory dimension and turns into laughter.
An environment that supports and recognizes the lightness of life is essential for cultivating a child's sense of fun. Respond to your child's attempts at levity and be willing to do silly things over and over.
Here's what tickles your baby's funny bone and why -- from infancy to toddlerhood.Early Laughter
A baby's first laugh is usually reserved for the people who first made him smile: Mommy and Daddy. It begins with parents making faces and funny noises to get the baby excited and interested, notes Doris Bergen, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. A baby's relationship to the adult doing the funny stuff matters as much as the physical sensations and funny noises; he'll laugh and play only if he feels secure.
A little later, what makes an infant giggle is primarily physical and feels pleasurable: blowing raspberries on his belly, tickling his feet, picking him up and flying him gently through space.
At about 4 months, a baby begins to laugh at things he can see and hear. He'll delight in nonsense humor -- an exaggeration of things he typically experiences, such as faces with wide-open mouths and big eyes and wacky sounds such as toots and trills.
Your baby's giggles mean he's having a good time, but he doesn't yet have a true sense of humor. He'll begin to develop one within the next six months, when he develops the cognitive ability to find an idea funny.Funny Faces and Flying Food
As your baby grows, his sense of humor begins to emerge. He'll still find belly raspberries worth a howl, but around 9 months, his laughter will also reflect a more sophisticated understanding of the world around him. This understanding breeds several kinds of humor:
- Violation of the rules, such as throwing food or making a mess, can make a baby roar. Finding these activities funny indicates that she has learned what the rules are and how to break them.
- Element of suspense, including games such as peekaboo or jack-in-the-box, occurs when the baby knows that something funny is about to happen. This sense of humor indicates that he grasps the fact that objects that are out of sight continue to exist. This is a major milestone because it helps a child learn to anticipate what lies ahead based on what happened in the past.
- Incongruity humor, or the element of surprise, occurs when a baby expects one thing and something entirely different happens. To get the joke, he first needs to know what typically happens. Only then is he capable of noticing that something unexpected took place.
However, not all babies find the same things funny. Whether your baby laughs depends a lot on his temperament and how he reacts to certain kinds of stimulation. A very sensitive baby may hate the airplane game and being tickled, while his brother may pull your hand to his stomach to tickle him more.